Well within living memory, the British state, alongside charities and churches, was engaged in the mass abuse of children. In what was virtually a modern system of transportation – but without even the semblance of justice in those older cases of the deportation of convicts – thousands of children were in effect removed unlawfully from the UK to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The final destination of the White Commonwealth dominions added a little racism to the toxic mix, and these children were indeed treated little better than livestock.
This grotesque system of child disposal only dragged to a halt in 1974. It is, then, not some horror tale from the middle ages or the Victorian workhouse. It’s very much in our time.
The children, as we know now, were sent very often without their parents’ knowledge, let alone permission, and against the wishes of the child. They were dispatched because they were “in care” – the ugly irony echoes down the decades – and because they were perhaps too much bother for the authorities to deal with. They were knowingly sent to work and to be mistreated, and, above all, to be forgotten.
Although the public knew little about these crimes – there is no other word for it – there is evidence that the Government knew as early as the mid-1950s about the scale of the abuses, noting in one official report the “indecent haste” with which children were chosen to be sent away. And who was doing the choosing? Without being sensationalist, many were undisputedly paedophiles.
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